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Ricoeur, P. (1978). Psychoanalysis, Physics, and the Mind-Body Problem. Ann. Psychoanal., 6:336-342.

(1978). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 6:336-342

Psychoanalysis, Physics, and the Mind-Body Problem

Paul Ricoeur, DLITT


Paul Ricoeur:

I have no fundamental disagreement with the general line of Stephen Toulmin's paper. My contribution, therefore, will be to provide recognition, qualifications, and questions rather than details, objections, or alternative solutions.

To start with recognition, I should like to review the conclusions which may be drawn on merely historical grounds from Professor Toulmin's paper.

1.   He demonstrates in a very forceful way that it is only the modern formulation of the mind-body problem which prevents us from unifying psychology and physics in an all-encompassing physical world-picture. More precisely, it is the narrow definitions of matter and movement by Descartes which transform dualism into an epistemological obstacle.

2.   Then comes the very interesting idea that Helmholtz's energeticism, when put against the background of Cartesian mechanism, may appear as a partial liberation which reopens the way to a unified “psychophysics.” As a corollary of this, Freud's “Project” of 1895 may be assessed as a legitimate attack on a worthwhile theoretical task, “an attack whose potentialities have not yet been exhausted.”

3.   Another extremely suggestive remark concerns the correlation between the theory of “complementarity” in the field of theoretical physics and the trend of psychoanalysis in the twenties and thirties toward construing the phenomena of psychic life in exclusively psychic terms.

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